The New Fulcrum of Asia: The Indo-Japan Entente and the Rise of China

A new and potentially pivotal alignment of India and Japan is forming in response to China’s rise. This still informal security and military partnership implicitly premised on countering an ever-more-powerful China reflects deep common apprehensions about China’s rise and will probably take increasing substance in coming years. This entente marks a crucial failure of China’s diplomacy to reassure Tokyo and New Delhi that its rapidly growing military power will not be directed against them. Instead, its successive dismissal of their security concerns throughout the post–Cold War period, combined with China’s rapidly growing military power and more assertive approach to maritime conflicts since 2009, has driven them to conclude that prudence requires that the two stand together, informally, to convey to Beijing the message that it will not be able to subordinate its neighbors and rivals one at a time. Tokyo especially has concluded that Japan’s SDF could well be in the PLA’s line of fire over maritime and other issues, and that it is therefore prudent to counter this possibility by building a coalition of like-minded regional states. Its search for security seems to be driving the new partnership.

The Philippines and Vietnam are showing interest in Tokyo’s new approach, but the country with the greatest national capabilities, including military, and with the deepest apprehensions about a rising China is India. Its collective memory of “1962” generates deep apprehensions over China’s future course. Beijing taught its “lesson” very well, which continues to resonate in New Delhi. Beijing’s on-again, off-again exercise of intimidation against India—most recently over the border in the vicinity of the Karakorum pass in early 2013—ensures that these apprehensions do not fade. Psychologically, India lacks the anti-Japanese animus over “history” found in some Asian countries; instead, mutual memory of World War II joins them together in a way not found in any other Asian country. This translates into positive responses to proposals for closer security partnership emanating from successive governments in Tokyo. Apprehensive of becoming entangled in China’s quarrels with Japan and the United States, New Delhi is, nonetheless, cognizant of the real leverage with Beijing and enhancement of Indian national capabilities that may flow from a tilt toward Tokyo and Washington.

Neither Tokyo nor New Delhi desires confrontation with China, the major trading partner of each. Participation in China’s growing markets is vital to Japan’s search for economic revival. For India, China has emerged as a major customer for India’s raw materials and semi-finished goods and supplier of cheap consumer goods. Yet, economics does not trump national security. Both are deeply apprehensive of possible confrontation with China, and have concluded that standing together, informally, with other like-minded Asian countries, especially ones of substantial national capabilities, is likely to reduce the likelihood that China will take such a course.

The realist calculations that are bringing Tokyo and New Delhi together are still anathema to some opinion groups in both countries. In India, the tradition of non-alignment/strategic independence has not evaporated. India’s non-alignment forces mobilized, for example, against the nuclear cooperation deal with the United States in the mid-2000s, and remain adamantly opposed to alignment with the United States against China. Again, during the run-up to Abe Shinzo’s important January 2014 visit to India, the non-alignment forces rallied to oppose some of his bolder proposals. Behind Tokyo stands the United States, in their view, and India must eschew ganging up with them against China. Yet these traditional non-alignment views prevented neither the India-US nuclear cooperation deal in the 2000s or deeper embrace of Japan as a security partner in early 2014. If Narendra Modi becomes prime minister in June, the response to Abe’s proposals for expanded cooperation could become more straight-forwardly positive.

The allergy in Japan attempting to play a military and major political role in Asia remains strong, but there, too, traditional pacifist sentiments have been eroded by a number of factors, most importantly, China’s successive disparagement of Japan’s security concerns and increasingly assertive use of its military power in the seas around Japan.1 Under successive Japanese leaders, from Koizumi Junichiro to Abe, including even Hatoyama Yuiko, who sought to distance Japan somewhat from the United States, Japan has moved toward political and military partnership with India.

India will not replace the United States as Japan’s primary security partner. The alliance with the United States guarantees Japan’s security in a way that any possible partnership with India could not. In spite of a gradually increasing naval presence in the Pacific Ocean, India’s navy plays a minor role in Japan’s maritime home. For India too, the United States is a far more important security partner than Japan, given its robust presence in the center of the Indian Ocean at Diego Garcia.2 Starting in 1992, the US navy has engaged in nearly annual joint exercises with the Indian navy. Since 2002, these have significantly strengthened the operational capabilities and inter-operability of both navies.

In the sale of military equipment and technological upgrading, Japan is far less important to India than is the United States. In early 2014, Japan is considering its first-ever sale—an amphibious aircraft suitable for search and rescue operations—to India. The fact that it is moving toward lifting its self-imposed ban on the export of military-useable items is significant, as is the fact that India may be the recipient of the first sale. But while Japan is just considering this, the United States has become India’s leading arms supplier, and India has become the leading customer for US arms sales.3 The India-US and Japan-US bilateral relationships are now being augmented by an India-Japan partnership, raising the specter of a Japan-India-US combination—if China resorts to military force to overturn the status quo in Asia. Beijing certainly understands this.


Evolution of the Indo-Japan Entente

There were few discussions of security issues between Japan and India during the Cold War. With India aligned with the USSR and Japan with the United States, there was little to discuss. Japan had no military presence or security role in South Asia or the Indian Ocean. India played a significant role in Indochina, but not in Japan’s northwest Pacific environs.4 The demise of the Soviet Union cut India adrift, while China’s rapid economic growth, which began with its “second opening” in 1992, caused Japan to start thinking about security concerns along that vector as Beijing dismissed its security concerns.

A series of eleven Chinese nuclear tests between May 1990 and July 1996, along with an expanding and improved arsenal of nuclear weapons that those tests represented, was one cause of mounting Japanese security concerns. Japan objected to the tests because of a strong preference for global nuclear disbarment, with special focus on Japan’s immediate vicinity. Beijing dismissed these concerns, first by arguing that these weapons are purely for self-defense, and, given Japan’s history of aggression against China, Japan had no standing to raise objections,5 Second, Beijing said that Japan was under the US nuclear umbrella and therefore had no standing to object. These may have been cogent debating points, but they stunned Japanese with their dismissive attitude toward Japan’s nuclear fears. China’s media sometimes went further in delegitimizing Japan’s objections to China’s nuclear weapons program, arguing that Japan was plotting the revival of militarism and that its objections to China’s development of a strong nuclear capacity were an attempt to keep China weak and vulnerable to Japanese aggression. Japan’s media followed China’s depiction of Japan closely, and Japanese were again shocked by China’s refusal to recognize the vast differences between the Japan of the1930s and the Japan of the 1990s.

China’s missile firings and large-scale amphibious assault exercises on islands on the west side of the Taiwan Strait between July 1995 and March 1996 further deepened Japanese security concerns.6 Intended to convince the newly enfranchised electorate of Taiwan along with the Clinton administration that China was quite prepared to use force if Taipei crossed some “Taiwan independence” threshold, the message caused Tokyo to begin thinking through the implications of a PLA assault on Taiwan, with which Japanese trade and investment was substantial. Incorporation of Taiwan into the PLA military system would considerably strengthen its ability to threaten Japan’s sea lines of communication. Japan’s role in the defense of Taiwan was linked to its alliance with the United States. If the US found itself in a war with China to defend Taiwan and Japan refused to provide rear area and logistical assistance, the strongly negative US reaction to Japan’s non-involvement would likely destroy the US-Japan alliance. To protect its US alliance, Japan would need to actively support US forces defending Taiwan, and that raised the prospect of the need to defend Japanese soil from PLA attack.

The emergence of Japanese security concerns over China in the mid-1990s was one factor bringing Tokyo and New Delhi together. By 1998, they were prepared to begin their first-ever security dialogue. That event was aborted, however, by India’s nuclear tests in May. For two years, Tokyo’s strong objection to India’s decision to develop and deploy a substantial nuclear retaliatory force blocked any advance in India-Japan ties, but talks between Finance Minister Jaswant Singh and US National Security Advisor Strobe Talbott starting in late 1998 produced a new strategic understanding between Washington and New Delhi. For the first time, the United States began to view India’s quest for an expanded global role, including greater military power, in the context of China’s rise rather than primarily in the context of the India-Pakistan nexus. This new India-US understanding opened the way to a new stage in Indo-US relations—and to revival of the Japan-India strategic dialogue. In November 1999, Singh visited Tokyo for talks. This led in January 2000 to the first-ever visit to Japan by an Indian defense minister, who happened to be George Fernandes, an outspoken critic of China’s policies and advocate of greater vigilance against China. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in which he was a member was determined to strengthen India’s defenses against China—and its status in the world. Opening a security dialogue with Japan was one component of this drive. During the January talks, they set aside differences over the nuclear issue and expanded dialogue in other security areas. These breakthroughs led to Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro’s August visit during which the two sides proclaimed a Global Partnership for the Twenty-first Century. The first formal defense minister talks followed in 2001, followed by the first security dialogue and military-to-military consultations. These and other major interactions and statements over the next fourteen years are listed in Figure 1.

Development of the Indo-Japan Entente
Aug. 2000 Global Partnership in the 21st Century
Jan. 2001 1st formal DM talks PM Yoshiro Mori to India
Jul. 2001 1st Security Dialogue and Mililitary-Military Consultation DM George Fernandes to Tokyo
Dec. 2001 Joint Statement on Partnership in new Asian Era
Action Plan for Japan-India Global Partnership
Dec. 2002 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation PM Koizumi and Vajpayee in ??
Apr. 2005 Partnership in a New Asian Era: Strategic Orientation of Global Partnership PM Singh and Koizumi in ??
8-Fold Iinitiative for Strenthening Global Partnership
May. 2006 Joint Statement on Bilateral Defense Cooperation DM Pranab Mukherjee to Japan
Dec. 2006 Joint Statement Toward Japan-Indian Strategic and Global Partnership PM Singh & Abe in Japan
Mar. 2007 Strategic Dialogue at foreign minister level launched
Aug. 2007 Joint Statement on Roadmap for New Dimensions of Strategic and Global Partnership PM Abe and Singh in India
Oct. 2008 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation PM Singh and Taro Aso in Japan
Joint Statement on Advancement of Strategic and Global Partnership PM Singh and Taro Aso in Japan
Dec. 2009 Action Plan to Advance Security Cooperation PM Yukio Hatoyama and Singh in India
2010 Africa Dialogue launched
Jun. 2010 Agreement on Cooperation in Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy
Oct. 2010 Joint Statement: Vision for Strategic and Global Partnership in Next Decade PM Singh and Naoto Kan in Japan
Apr. 2011 1st Defense Policy Dialogue at vice-minister level
Aug. 2011 Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
Dec. 2011 Vision for Enhancement of Strategic and Global Partnership on 60th Anniversary PM Noda and Singh in India
2012 Economic Dialogue at ministeral level launched
2013 Japanese Emperor and Empress to India
Jan. 2014 Joint Statement on occasion of Official Visit to PM of Japan to India

Figure 1: Major Advances in the India-Japan Partnership

The governments of Koizumi and Abe (both times in office) were especially effective engineers of the Japan-India entente. Both advocated Japan becoming a “normal country” and playing a more prominent political role in Asia, and both saw India as a natural partner in that effort. Relations were promoted to the “strategic” level during Koizumi’s May 2005 visit, as a Global and Strategic Partnership for the Twenty-first Century. The two sides decided to hold annual prime ministers’ visits and regular meetings of foreign, defense, trade, and finance ministers. Japan, thereby, became the only country other than Russia with which India holds regular defense minister meetings. In the joint statement during Koizumi’s visit, India expressed public thanks for Japan’s large-scale financial assistance to its development—a high-profile expression of gratitude contrasting sharply with Beijing’s longstanding refusal to do the same and even to allow the Chinese media to inform the public about Japan’s robust financial assistance to China’s development, a stance which became a serious irritant in Sino-Japan relations during the 1990s and 2000s. Japan’s leaders had hoped that such assistance would foster goodwill among China’s citizens. This did not happen, in part because China’s media did not let that country’s citizens know about Japan’s assistance. Gradually, Japanese leaders concluded that Japan’s assistance should go to grateful India rather than seemingly ungrateful China.

Abe pushed boldly to expand the partnership during his first stint as prime minister. During a December 2006 visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the two sides issued a joint statement affirming “similar perceptions of the evolving environment in the region and the world at large.” Relations, it said, are “driven by converging long-term political, economy and strategic interests … and underpinned by a common commitment to democracy, open society, human rights, rule of law and free market economy.”7 China was implicit in each of those formulations.

In October 2008 under Prime Minister Aso Taro, Japan and India signed a joint statement for a “comprehensive framework for enhancement of security cooperation.”8 This was only Japan’s third security agreement following its 1960 alliance with the United States and a March 2007 agreement with Australia—the latter also concluded during Abe’s first time as prime minister. In Tokyo to sign the agreement, Singh declared that strong India-Japan relations would play a significant role in the “emerging Asian security architecture and would contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of Asia and the world.”9

This entente continued to advance even under Hatoyama, who moved a bit closer to China for the sake of forming an “East Asian community,” which would not include the United States. Eventually his rebalancing efforts floundered on, among other things, China’s new assertiveness toward the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, efforts that started in 2009. In December 2009, Japan and India issued an Action Plan, including increased information exchanges and policy coordination on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. It established nine cooperation mechanisms: a maritime security dialogue, an annual comprehensive security dialogue between foreign and defense ministry officials, regular consultations between national security advisors, vice foreign minister dialogues twice a year, annual foreign ministry dialogues, etc. Mechanisms for expanded “defense cooperation” included regular defense minister and foreign minister (2+2) meetings, annual defense policy dialogues, annual military-to-military talks at the deputy secretary level, regular reciprocal visits by service chiefs, and annual talks by army and navy staffs. Cooperation between the coast guards of the two countries was expanded.

Visits by Singh and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihko to India produced further agreements on mechanisms and areas of expanded cooperation. Finance Minister Aso Taro attempted to reassure India in May 2013 that Tokyo understood its desire not to “ally” against China, saying:

“Alliance, in the Indian context, drops some jaws, and I am aware of that. We will not call you our ally in the sense we call America. But almost, you are…As two of the vibrant democracies in Asia, we share the same outlook in many respects. Neither one of us is a [territorial] revisionist. Far from that. Both of us know that the international order functions only when based upon established rules and laws. India and Japan are both maritime democracies. What happens in the Western Pacific should affect your interests. What happens in the IOR [Indian Ocean region] should affect the interests of my country. Most importantly, we both know that we must be good stewards of freedom of [maritime] movement.” 10

After calling for “much, much” intensified cooperation between the two coast guards and navies, Aso added:

“[W]e must enlarge our mental map…Andaman Nicobar is a case in point.…few other places bear more strategic importance than Andaman Nicobar. Because of their presence, India is an integral part of South East Asia. More people in Japan, especially those in uniform, should know more about it…Only then we could [sic] enhance our maritime security cooperation and inter-operability and strengthen our links…from Yokosuka to Port Blair to Djibouti.”

While Indian officials certainly did not appreciate public discussions of geopolitical realities, they understood what Aso was saying. At the end of 2008, the PLA-Navy began ongoing participation in the anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden in the western Indian Ocean.11 This marked a major qualitative leap for the PLAN, including knowledge of the waters and littoral facilities of the area and of sustained, complex operations at great distances from China’s coast—astride the sea lines of communication of both Japan and India. PLA ships transiting to or from the Gulf of Aden would pass by “Andaman Nicobar.”

A cluster of visits in late 2013-early 2014 pushed relations further ahead. In December Japan’s Emperor and Empress made their first-ever visit to India (Akihito had visited as crown prince). Although this was carefully non-political, such visits invariably take place in a broader international context. Akihito’s visit to China in 1992, for example, had symbolized the apex of Sino-Japanese “friendship” as Japan helped Beijing escape from its post-June 4 sanctions and opprobrium. By 2013 a Japanese imperial visit to China would have been unthinkable. The Japanese imperial presence in India symbolized a growing friendship.

In the afterglow of the imperial visit, Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori visited India on January 5-8, followed by Abe’s visit that month as guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade. A series of advances, all implicitly directed against China, were approved. Japanese firms were invited to undertake major infrastructural projects in India’s northeastern states. Chinese firms had long been banned from participation in such projects because those areas were potential battlefields in the event of a “second round” of Sino-Indian war. Infrastructural improvements would strengthen New Delhi’s control over that region, and thereby its position vis-à-vis China. Across the border in Tibet, major infrastructural efforts are steadily improving China’s position.

Agreement was reached on large-scale Japanese assistance to construct a transportation-industrial corridor between Bangalore and Chennai. A Japanese assisted high-speed railway and modern highway flanked by industrial development zones are to connect the center of India’s IT industry with its major southeastern port, where Japan undertook to build a modern harbor. Industrial goods were to flow from the new industrial zones via modern transport links to Chennai from whence they would travel to global markets. About 1500 miles due east of Chennai is the Myanmar port of Dawei, where the Thai government is investing billions in the construction of a new port. Dawei is only a few hundred miles west of Bangkok. In effect India, Japan, and Thailand are cooperating to put in place a new system to increase the economic interaction among the three countries—and, not incidentally, to help draw Myanmar away from its deep dependence on China.

Another area of agreement was strengthening cooperation in UN Peacekeeeping Operations (PKO)—the one in South Sudan was specifically targeted. There is a strong complementarity. India is a major supplier of military forces and does not have the strong “casualty aversion” that developed countries typically have. Japan has such an aversion, but is able to contribute substantial financial support and high-tech equipment. The two sides also discussed Indian purchase of an amphibious airplane ideal for rescuing military personnel from the sea, which as discussed earlier, would be Japan’s first post-1945 foreign sale of military-use items. This sale would bode well for expanded defense relation, with India’s large military purchases providing markets for Japan’s high-tech defense industries. Beijing was confronted by the specter of an Indian military armed by the United States and Japan.

New Delhi and Tokyo agreed during Onodera’s visit to conduce bilateral naval exercises “on a regular basis,” the first of which had taken place in 2012 off the coast of Japan. The second took place in December 2013 in the Bay of Bengal. The press release from Onodera’s talks announced, “In 2014 the Indian Navy will visit Japan to conduct joint exercises.”12 Expanded maritime cooperation is a major focus, as both are concerned about the more capable and numerous Chinese warships cruising in more distant seas.

The Spirit of the New Entente

On 10 January, 2014, two days after Onodera left India, China’s ambassador to India Wei Wei published an Op-ed piece in the English language The Indian Express, posted on the website of the PRC embassy in New Delhi,13 pleading for India to reject alignment with Japan and stand instead with China in an emerging struggle over the international order in Asia. Wei advanced two main reasons: the importance of India’s economic ties with China and “the history issue” of Japan’s aggression during the 1930s and 1940s. Referring to Abe’s December 26, 2013 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, Wei interpreted it along with Tokyo’s quest for partnership with India as nothing less than an attempt to overturn the post-1945 order established by Japan’s defeat in World War II. He wrote:

“Unfortunately, some Japanese leaders blatantly paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine where Class-A war criminals of World War II are honored. This is a brazen challenge to the post-war international order, to historical justice and human conscience. This will also undermine the political stability in East Asia and hurt economic relations between China and Japan and even the US economy. The GDPs of China, the US and Japan rank the top there in the world. Any disturbance to the above three economies will not only damage the global economy recovery impetus, but also harm Asian economies, India included.”

This could be read as a threat either to pull down the international economy in retaliation for Abe’s foreign policies, or to economically punish India for going along with Abe’s pernicious foreign policies. Either way, the point is that India would suffer economically as a result of Abe’s designs. The threat to India was left implicit, as Japan was vilified. Wei continued:

“Japan, as an Asian country per se, should have assumed its responsibility of promoting common prosperity in Asia. The Japanese government, however, is fiercely implementing the right-wing doctrine by trying to get rid of the post-war order, by amending the pacifist constitution and by developing into a ‘military power.’ This obviously runs against the global trend of pursuing development and enhancing economic recovery.”

The post-1945 Asian “order” saw a militarily impotent and politically docile Japan. Now Japan’s attempt to defend its territory and catalyze political alignments favorable to itself and opposed by China is depicted as an attempt to overturn the postwar Asian order. India should not go along with this malevolent effort, Wei argued, because it, like China, “made important contributions to the fight against Japanese militarist aggression in WWII.” Moreover, China’s war of resistance against Japan had defended India; had China been defeated that “would have made the [Japanese] invasion of British India much more plausible.” Wei concluded, “Today, the people of Asian countries, including China, India and Japan, would [sic] all bear in mind the lessons of history…for the purpose of telling right from wrong, for the purpose of upholding he path of peace and for the purpose of realizing common development.”

Beijing’s use of “history” to influence India faces several difficulties. First, the “history” that dominates the Indian narrative is not World War II, but “1962,” when India believes after trying vigorously to befriend the PRC in the 1950s, it was “betrayed.” The dominant Indian narrative cites a long list of Indian attempts to befriend the PRC. It was one of the first non-communist countries to recognize the PRC on April 1, 1950. It spoke in favor of PRC entry into the Security Council and on Beijing’s behalf in UN debates over the Korean War, earning US animus for that effort. India broke with Washington and refused to sign the US-brokered peace treaty with Japan, largely because of issues having to do with China. It rejected US policies of containment, alliances and military buildup directed against China and the Soviet Union. Instead, India’s “non-alignment” fostered amicable cooperation with countries on both sides of the Cold War divide—advantageous to the PRC in the 1950s. New Delhi urged the Dalai Lama to come to terms with Beijing, refused US and other solicitations of support for Tibetan resistance in the early years of the PRC, recognized China’s sovereignty over Tibet in 1954, and sold food to feed China’s military forces in Tibet before the PLA completed roads to haul in food supplies from China proper. Not incidentally, Beijing kept quiet about its territorial demands on India until the PLA had opened those supply lines to China. India facilitated China’s entry into the Afro-Asia movement in the mid-1950s, securing its participation in the first meeting of that new movement at Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. Beijing repaid this Indian friendship, in the mainstream Indian view, by absurdly blaming Nehru and India for the Tibet uprising of 1959 and then attacking India in 1962.14 The reality of Sino-Indian interactions was, of course, far more complex than these stereotypes, but the point is that, in the common Indian view, China attacked India. Japan has never done that. The humiliating defeat by China in 1962 burns in the Indian memory of indignities nearly as much, perhaps, as the Japanese ‘humiliation’ of China does in the Chinese memory. Most Chinese know little about India’s befriending of China and the Indian narrative of betrayal and humiliation by China. The two countries are simply on different sides of the historical memory divide.

The same is true regarding memory of World War II. The history of that conflict does not burden India-Japan relations as it does China-Japan ties, but, in fact, helps bring the countries together. Unlike the Indian doctor Pwarkaneth Kotnis who Wei lauded in his statement as “helping the Chinese people against Japanese aggression,” Mohandas Gandhi and the independence movement he led refused to support the British war effort following Japan’s December 1941 offensive.15 Instead, Gandhi and his Congress launched a movement in April 1942 demanding that Britain “Quit India” just as Japanese armies were consolidating control over Burma and contemplating a drive into British India.16 Consequently, British authorities rounded up Congress leaders, who spent most of WWII in British jails. Chiang Kai-shek, in fact, flew to India (with US support) in early 1942 to try and persuade Gandhi to support the allied war effort. Gandhi and others, remembering British betrayal of a similar promise of postwar independence given in the early days of World War I, refused. There was considerable sympathy for the allied cause among “progressive” Congress leaders in 1942, but the British empire, not the Japanese empire, was the nemesis of their independence movement. India never experienced the realities of Japanese rule. Japan’s strategists decided in 1942 to push not into India but into the Southwest Pacific toward Australia.

One prominent Congress leader, Subhas Chanda Bose, threw his lot in with Nazi Germany and Japan. Defecting to Germany in 1940, Bose recruited a force of about 3,000 Indian soldiers from among POWs taken by Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps. Shifting tides of war in North Africa caused Bose to turn his attention to Asia, and in February 1943, a Nazi submarine delivered him to Japanese-occupied Sumatra. There he again organized a small army from Indian POWs captured in Japan’s Southeast Asian campaigns. That Indian force fought alongside Japan’s in a short-lived 1944 attempt to march into India. Bose died in a plane crash in Taipei in August 1945 on his way to Soviet-occupied Manchuria, where he imagined he could continue his anti-British struggle. Britain arrested and attempted to try for treason several hundred officers in Bose’s various forces, but nationalist opinion in India forced it to back down. Since independence, Bose has been incorporated into the hagiography of Indian nationalism as a patriot who aligned with Britain’s enemy to free India. The Hindi honorific “Netaji,” (“respected leader”) is typically attached to his name in textbooks. The common Indian narrative of Japan’s path to war with the Anglo-Americans as symbolized by the embrace of “Netaji Subhas Bose” is not too dissimilar from that presented in the Yasukuni Shrine museum. When Abe addressed India’s parliament in 2007, he noted that the Calcutta airport into which he would soon fly was named after Chandra Bose. Abe also noted that in Calcutta he would meet with the son of Justice Radhabinod Pal, who is “highly respected even today by many Japanese for the noble spirit of courage” he exhibited during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.17 Pal was an Indian jurist on the Far Eastern Military Tribunal, who refused to find Japan’s leaders to be “war criminals.” The whole process, Pal insisted, was one-sided “victor’s justice” with allied leaders escaping judgment for their atrocious actions such as firebombing Japanese cities. Today, Pal is widely remembered and esteemed in India–and in Japan. “History” qua WWII unites India and Japan, not India and China.

The role of “universal values” differs starkly in Indo-Japanese relations and in China’s relations with those two countries. From Beijing’s point of view there is no such thing as “universal values,” and the very concept that there is, is a bourgeois idea used by Western countries to undermine the rule of the Chinese Communist Party with the objective of casting China once again into a situation of weakness, as in the “century of national humiliation.” Xi Jinping told a National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference in August 2013 that from a Marxist viewpoint, “there is no such thing as universal values.”18:

“Western countries see our country’s development and expansion as a challenge to their value views, systems and models, and intensify ideological and cultural infiltration of our country…Hostile forces are doing their utmost to propagate so-called ‘universal values’…their objective is to vie with us [the CCP] for…the people’s hearts…to overthrow the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s socialist system.”19

From this perspective, “universal values” are a way of mobilizing anti-socialist forces to weaken and ultimately overthrow the CCP, a manifestation of the “Cold War mentality” that the West used successfully to destroy the USSR and East European socialist states. In the case of India and Japan, talk of “universal values” suggests to the CCP a linkup between those countries and other like-minded countries—the United States, Australia, the Philippines, perhaps Indonesia or even Taiwan—against the PRC. From Japanese and Indian points of view, democracy, rule of law, and stress on human rights are part of what makes them proud of their nations. The fact that Beijing sneeringly rejects these things as tools of imperialist aggression contributes to fear of it and its future course. The CCP’s suppression of popular knowledge of Japan’s large-scale economic assistance to China and its fostering of anti-Japanese sentiment via the history issue are linked to the CCP’s rejection of democracy and press freedom.

The Failure of Beijing’s Efforts to Reassure China’s Neighbors

The gradual, but steady, coalescence of the India-Japan entente is testimony to the failure of Chinese diplomacy, which did not make China’s neighbors comfortable with China’s growing power. It’s on again, off again resort to coercive diplomacy actually encouraged the entente. Tang Jiaxuan, long one of Beijing’s leading Japan specialists and foreign minister from 1998 to 2003, explained in his memoir the logic of China’s diplomacy.20 China desires friendship with all countries, but incorrect views in those countries sometimes make friendship difficult, or even impossible, Tang noted. To eliminate these “obstacles” and open the way for friendship, there must be a struggle against them, taking two key forms, added Tang. First, China’s diplomats, leaders, and media educate foreign audiences, showing why the ideas of the other side are wrong and must be changed. Second, sanctions such as canceling dialogues, exchanges and ship visits are applied, not to inflict pain on the other side, but to alert it to China’s unhappiness, and the possible costs of that.

This model of China as moral instructor has deep roots in China’s tradition, tracing back to when the Son of Heaven instructed “barbarian” rulers. The purpose of punitive measures is to educate and change the thinking of wrong-headed foreign rulers. Mao fell frequently into this pitfall. In early 1959 when he ordered China’s media to blame Nehru for the uprising in Tibet, he apparently believed that this polemical “struggle” would cause Nehru to recognize and discard his “incorrect” ideas, opening the way to renewed, a Sino-Indian friendship.21 The same line of thought operated when Mao opted in 1960 to make the struggle against Nikita Khrushchev’s “revisionism” more direct and open. Mao told his comrades that this strong struggle would cause the Soviet leader to recognize and abandon his mistakes, creating a principled basis for closer CCP-CPSU solidarity.22

When Beijing applies its pedagogic method to Japan, Japanese concerns about its policies are met with harsh rhetoric, inferring malevolent Japanese intentions and declaring these concerns illegitimate. Sanctions point to the costs of continued Japanese adherence to ill-founded ideas and policies: suspension of high-level exchanges, stepped up civilian and coast guard activities in disputed waters, and condoning virulent demonstrations with Chinese citizens voicing hateful expressions demanding the sternest measures against Japan. The trajectory of Japan’s reaction to China’s modus operandi over the past fifteen years indicates that China’s approach has not worked. It has not led Japan to abandon its “anti-Chinese ideas,” but to fear China and reach out to like-minded, big India.

India is in the swing position in the emerging Japan-India-China triangle. Its strategy seems to be to profess a desire for friendship with China, as well as with Japan, and to use Beijing’s fear of too-close Indo-Japan friendship to get China to undertake more friendly policies. With skillful diplomacy India might be able to use this fear to induce Beijing to settle the territorial issue by returning to the Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping proposal of a west-east “swap” package-deal. That would require high-level, confident leadership in Beijing, and domestic opposition to “weakness” would be an obstacle.

India is the most vulnerable member of the potential US-Japan-India coalition. The United States is obligated by treaty to come to Japan’s assistance in the event of war with China. Although the United States might be sympathetic to India in the event of a “second round,” India would presumably stand alone. Indians view China as a country quite prepared to resort to force and act with corresponding caution. The economic cost to China of a clash with Japan would be immense, but a war with India would be much less so. In the swing position, India is also the weakest link in such a coalition and must act with caution.


1. Reinhard Drifte, Japan’s Security Relations with China since 1989: From Balancing to Bandwagoning (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003).

2. Andrew Erickson, et. al, “ Diego Garcia and the United States’ Emerging Indian Ocean Strategy,” Asian Security 6, no. 3 (2010): 214-237.

3. Gill Plimmer, “India becomes biggest foreign buyer of US weapons,” Financial Times, February 23, 2014.

4. John Garver, “Indian-Chinese Rivalry in Indochina,” Asian Survey 27, no. 1 (November 1987), 1205-1219.

5. Reinhard Drifte, Japan’s Security Relations with China since 1989, 43-59.

6. Reinhard Drifte, Japan’s Security Relations with China since 1989, 43-59.

7. “Joint Statement towards India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership,” Ministry of External Affairs, India,

8. “Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between Japan and India,” October 22, 2008, MOFA, Japan.

9. “Manmohan Singh Arrives in Japan,” The Indian, October 21, 2009,

10. Taro Aso, “Japan’s Revival: The Japan-India Global Strategic Partnership,” Delhi, India, May 4, 2013.

11. Andrew Erickson and Austin Strange, “No Substitute for Experience: Chinese Antipiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden,” China Maritime Studies, no. 10, (November 2013).

12. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Defense, January 6 2014,

13. “Asian Imperatives,” January 10, 2014,

14. John Garver, “China’s Decision for War with India in 1962,” in Robert S. Ross and Alastair Iain Johnston, eds. New Approaches to the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 86-130.

15. H.P. Willmontt, Empires in the Balance; Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies to April 1942 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982).

16. Following Japan’s victory in Burma and occupation of the Andaman Islands, Gandhi called for “an orderly and timely British withdrawal from India.” See Surjit Mansingh, Historical Dictionary of India (Lanham, MA: The Scarecrow Press, 1996), 338-39; and R.C. Jauhri, American Diplomacy and Independence for India, (Bombay: Vora, 1970).

17. Shinzo Abe, “Confluence of the Two Seas,” August 22, 2007, MOFA, Japan.

18. Cary Huang, Keith Zhai, “Xi Jinping rallies party for propaganda war on internet,” South China Morning Post, September 4, 2013,

19. “Xi Jinping’s 19 August Speech Revealed?” China Copyright and Media, November 12, 2013,

20. Tang Jiaxuan, Jinyu xufeng (Beijing: Shijie zhishi chubanshe, 2009), 5-6.

21. John Garver, “China’s Decision for War with India in 1962,” 94.

22. John W. Garver, “Review Article: Mao’s Soviet Policies,” The China Quarterly, no. 173 (March 2003), 201-203.